Warm Up with a German Sipping Chocolate in Dresden

I loved sipping this rich Schokoccino—dark chocolate and espresso—at Camondas chocolate shop. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I loved sipping this rich Schokoccino—dark chocolate and espresso—at Camondas chocolate shop. ©Laurel Kallenbach

In Dresden’s Old Town, if the temperatures chill, if a cold wind blows, or if rain sweeps down from the skies, it’s time to duck into the Camondas chocolate shop.

I was walking back to the Swissôtel Dresden am Schloss from the Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), and Camondas’ signs for drinking chocolates enticed me. I succumbed and stepped into a warmly-lit fantasyland of chocolate.

Camondas sells sweets from around the world. As I browsed through cigar-shaped chocolate from Cuba and espresso-filled chocolate from Italy, I removed my gloves. The Venezuelan dark chocolates prompted me to unwrap my scarf. At the Swiss display I took off my hat. By the time I discovered the section of Saxon chocolates—Dresden is the capital of Saxony—I had unzipped my coat and decided to stay awhile.

A display of mouthwatering truffles at Camondas ©Laurel Kallenbach

A display of mouthwatering truffles at Camondas ©Laurel Kallenbach

I turned my attention to the counter and decided to focus on which chocolate drink I should order—and there were many. Because I was struggling to read the German menu board, I asked a woman behind the counter what was in one of them. Her English was good, but to make things easier, she handed me the menu printed in English.

Even with descriptions I could understand, I still had trouble deciding between a Nougat Blast (hazelnut nougat with melted milk chocolate, whipped cream, and a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts on top), the Chocolate Cream Liqueur (containing a shot of creamy chocolate liqueur made from brandy that matures for a year in oak casks), a dark-chocolate ice-cream shake, and the Schokoccino (an aromatic espresso and thick, creamy cocoa topped with chocolate chips.) They all sounded divine, but this last concoction won out.

Yet there was another decision to make: Would I like to add spice on top? The choice of spices was eclectic: rosemary, curry, ginger, cinnamon, chili, nutmeg. I went with cardamom, paid my 4.75 €, and claimed a seat at one of café tables lit by a candle.

Commemorative chocolates in honor of Dresden's reconstructed Frauenkirche. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Commemorative chocolates in honor of Dresden’s reconstructed Frauenkirche. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Before my drink arrived, I occupied my time admiring more chocolates: There were local chocolates in wooden boxes stamped with an illustration of the Frauenkirche. There were truffles, organic sweets, and chocolates filled with matcha green tea.

Soon the chocolate lady arrived with my glass cup of aromatic chocolate. She told me it was lightly sweetened but that I could add the natural sugar on my table to suit my taste buds. Then I was alone with my Schokoccino.

The cup lay sensually before me. I sniffed a dizzying mix of sweet cardamom and rich, loamy cacao. Its consistency was like warm lava, and I didn’t want to disturb the natural swirl of the darkest-of-dark chocolate too soon.

A display of chocolate made in Saxony ©Laurel Kallenbach

A display of chocolate made in Saxony ©Laurel Kallenbach

While soft jazz played in the background, I beheld the luscious cup. Eventually I was ready and took my first sip. I was rewarded with a flavor so deep I could practically sink into it.

I felt like I was in Vianne Rocher’s magic candy shop in Chocolat, one of my favorite books (and films).

I sat for a long while, watching the people who came into Camondas chocolate shop and listening to the melody of German vowels and consonants. I never did add any sugar; sipping that Schokoccino was the perfect bittersweet ending for my last night in the enchanting Old Town of Dresden.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in Dresden, Germany:

Flavors of Beschle chocolate from Switzerland ©Laurel Kallenbach

Flavors of Beschle chocolate from Switzerland ©Laurel Kallenbach

We’re Crazy for Coconut’s Fish Café on Maui

I have a confession to make: I’m nuts about Coconut’s, a casual fish eatery in Kihei, Maui. In fact, Ken and I so loved the fish tacos that we ate them for dinner twice during our vacation.

Coconut’s Fish Café, in Kihei, Maui, serves fresh fish in a casual setting. ©Laurel Kallenbach

With fresh-caught local fish and from-scratch cooking, Coconut’s Fish Café gets it right. The locals know it, and so do some tourists, so this restaurant in a strip mall on South Kihei Road is nearly always hopping. Not a problem: folks share the surfboard tables inside and the picnic tables outside.

Although Coconut’s legendary fish tacos aren’t the only thing on the menu—I was tempted by the fish and chips—they’re irresistible. Here’s why: you get two tacos (one per plate) served open rather than folded. On top of two corn tortillas are grilled chunks of mild-flavored mahi and ono, wedges of mango, grated cheddar, a special sauce concocted from 17 different herbs and spices, and a pile of shredded lettuce and tomato. The tacos are served with a wedge of lemon and your choice of hot sauces. The price: $12 (in November 2013).

Folks flock to Coconut’s for fresh fish tacos. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Also on the menu are grilled fish burgers, fish plates (grilled the way you like it, including blackened, Asian, or Cajun), garlic ribeye steak sandwiches, veggie tacos, coconut shrimp and more.

Fast, Casual, Incredible

Coconut’s Fish Café (which is named for the owners’ white-and-black cat) has a motto: fresh, local, simple, reasonably priced. While some Maui visitors might pass it over for a fancier restaurant, we loved the shorts-and-flip-flops dress code and the surfer ambiance. And it’s relatively quick.

The restaurant is named for the owners’ white-and-black cat, who loves fish. ©Laurel Kallenbach

You line up and order at the counter, then sip your local beer and watch vintage family surfer videos while you wait for your cooked-to-order food. This truly suited us: after a long day of snorkeling, we’d be ravenous by 6 p.m., and the thought of getting dressed up and driving to a restaurant where there might be a 20-minute wait to be seated was unbearable.

And don’t be deceived by Coconut’s casual setting: Zagat’s gives the café a rating of 27 (on a scale of 30), which classifies it as “Extraordinary to Perfection.” I don’t think it’s possible to get a better fish taco on the island.

I loved the fish tacos and the old-fashioned surfboard tables.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. Healthy & Earth-Friendly Too

There’s even more to love: Besides being locally owned and dedicated to serving homemade, mostly local food (with some gluten-free options), Coconut’s uses biodegradable to-go containers and cleans with earth-friendly products. Plus, all of its cooking oil is recycled into biofuel.

Originally published April 14, 2014

 

 

 

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium: Saving Oceans One Fish at a Time

The jellyfish tanks are a highlight at the ocean-friendly Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

For California vacationers, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the place to see exotic fish and sea creatures. However, the Aquarium is also dedicated to educating people about environmental issues that threaten ocean creatures. And its Seafood Watch program helps the seafood-loving consumers make wise seafood choices.

Among the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s highlights are the Kelp Forest exhibit, playful sea otters, giant tunas and barracudas (go at lunchtime to witness a feeding frenzy!), and the mysterious giant octopus whose tentacles move more gracefully than ballerinas. Also worth checking out are cute black-footed penguins, jellyfish that drift in the currents, and the Touching Pool, where you can place your hands in the water and brush your fingertips over the silky wings of stingrays gliding around the tank.

My favorite octopus, Monterey Bay Aquarium

These incredible marine life forms are so diverse and enthralling that it’s inconceivable to think of them disappearing. So it’s encouraging that the Aquarium teaches about ocean conservation.

Every year, 80,000 school children visit and learn about why they shouldn’t eat swordfish (the fishing lines entangle endangered sea turtles) or Atlantic cod (it’s dangerously overfished). The kids take home a handy Seafood Watch Pocket Guide, which lists the best and least sustainable choices of seafood at supermarkets and restaurants.

Watching Out for Oceans

The Monterey Bay Aquarium raises and explains issues pertaining to choosing and eating fish:

Overfishing: Fish such as orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and bluefin tuna are threatened due to over-zealous fishing. Seafood Watch estimates that more than 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are either fished to capacity or overfished.

Farmed vs. wild-caught: Some aquaculture methods, including salmon farming, produce concentrated fecal waste that pollutes surrounding waters.

Method of fishing: If fish is caught wild, methods such as trawl nets, dredging and traps kill other species. The most famous example was dolphins being caught in tuna nets.

Human health: Toxic mercury content of seafood is a disturbing health problem, although fortunately some fish contain less mercury than others. (Swordfish, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel are especially high in mercury and should be avoided.)

Fortunately, according to Seafood Watch, we can make a difference by supporting fisheries and fish farms that are better for the environment, while passing on others that aren’t doing as well.

The Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay Aquarium

SeafoodWatch.org has a downloadable seafood guide listing fish according to their level of endangerment. You can also download a smart phone app that brings you up-to-date recommendations for restaurants and markets that serve ocean-friendly seafood and sushi.

Cooking for Solutions

Love to eat seafood? Cooking for Solutions—a celebration of fine food and wine produced in ways that preserve the health of the soil, water and ocean—is held each May at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium. Celebrity chefs demonstrate ways to cook sustainably.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read my post about Passionfish, a sustainable seafood restaurant near the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

Photos courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium

Fresh Food + Local Beer + Community Spirit = Under the Sun Eatery & Pizzeria

Local beers are on tap at Under the Sun pub in Boulder, Colorado ©Allie Stoudt

Local beers are on tap at Under the Sun pub in Boulder, Colorado ©Allie Stoudt

Under the Sun is the quintessential Boulder, Colorado, restaurant: it’s got casual atmosphere that welcomes families and friendly folks, and its menu emphasizes locally sourced ingredients.

As part of the family of Mountain Sun Pubs & Breweries (with locations in Boulder, Longmont, and Denver), Under the Sun also brews its own fantastic beer, including a number of classics: Annapurna Amber, Old School Irish Stout, and Colorado Kind, a brew the original owner envisioned while biking from Oregon to Boulder in the early 1990s.

Before I launch into the dazzling six-course meal I shared with friends, here’s a word about the community spirit at Under the Sun. This pub boasts no widescreen TV. If you want to guzzle beer with your eyes glued to the boob tube, just stay home. But, if you want to share brews and food with your pals—or make friends with total strangers at the communal tables—this is the place for you. (There are even board games on hand to break the ice.)

At the end of the day, you’re likely to meet Boulderites dressed in cycling gear, hiking boots, or yoga togs—so no need to get gussied up. When the weather’s nice, you might enjoy a seat outside. Chilly? Relax by the fireplace and enjoy Under the Sun’s draught options, including 21 Mountain Sun ales, 10 guest beers and 8 wines on tap.

Awesome appetizer: asparagus with poached egg and prosciutto. ©Allie Stoudt

Awesome appetizer: asparagus with poached egg and prosciutto. ©Allie Stoudt

Service with a Smile

All the Mountain Sun pubs have a unique philosophy. First, the entire staff—from waiters to cooks to dishwashers to bartenders—share the tips so that everyone is motivated to create the best food and dining experience for guests. Really, the amiable—and usually speed—wait people are in states of good humor and efficiency.

And I should mention that the prices at Under the Sun are very reasonable for truly flavorful food. One reason the pubs can keep their fare affordable is they don’t accept credit cards. (There is an onsite ATM, and I’ve heard rumors about folks who are caught without cash being offered a “good karma IOU” envelop so they can mail in the money for their dinner later.)

Fabulous Food from Scratch

Under the Sun proves that delicious, well-made food isn’t something you can only get at fancy restaurants. The folks there are committed to serving fresh, exciting food from scratch, sourced locally whenever possible.

Pesto gnocchi ©Allie Stoudt

Pesto gnocchi Allie Stoudt

Depending on the season and menu, the kitchen serves up produce from a number of Colorado organic farms and food purveyors, including Abbondanza Organic Seeds and Produce, Cure Organic Farm, Long Family Farms, Munson’s Farm, Rudy’s Organic Bakery, Old Style Sausage in Louisville, and Steele’s Meats in Lafayette.

Vegetarians, vegans, and people who eat gluten free will find plenty of wholesome and tasty options on the menu.

Under the Sun’s executive chef Nick Swanson makes good use of a wood-burning oven to bake bread, smoke meats, char food, and roast vegetables, and of course, bake pizzas. If you want to watch the pizza-makers twirl the dough, ask to sit at the counter right by the oven. And yes, you can order gluten-free crust!

Local beer by the fire ©Laurel Kallenbach

Local beer by the fire ©Laurel Kallenbach

A Local Feast

I loved every dish I sampled  during a special taster meal—starting with the grilled asparagus appetizer, which included prosciutto, poached egg, and Grana Padano cheese. Its sprinkles of lemon-zest made it a knockout, and it was paired with the Saison D’Tropique farmhouse ale, which has bold flavor with slightly citrusy notes. This was followed by the Red Beet Salad with arugula, goat-cheese vinaigrette, candied walnuts, and fresh dill, paired with Hilltop Vienna-Style Lager that was refreshing and didn’t overpower the veggies.

Next up: housemade potato gnocchi with zucchini, garlic, and fennel pesto—plus fresh basil. It was scrumptious, and the Number One Belgian Tripel made a lovely companion for the Italian-inspired dish.

After that, I reveled in the beef short rib (fork-tender!) with fingerling potatoes and a mustard-seed vinaigrette. Colorado Kind Ale enhanced the meat’s rich, savory flavors.

I nabbed a slice of my friend’s wood-fired Wild Boom pizza (topped with local Hazel Dell mushrooms, wood-fired onions, sundried tomatoes, and Fontina cheese) just because it looked so delightful.

The perfect finale: wood-fired cookie with vanilla ice cream and stout-caramel sauce. ©Allie Stoudt

The perfect finale: wood-fired cookie with vanilla ice cream and stout-caramel sauce. ©Allie Stoudt

Luckily, I still had room for the wood-oven-fired oatmeal chocolate chip cookie served with a dollop of Sweet Cow vanilla ice cream. Heaven! (And by the way, Chocolate Dip Stout, which contains real chocolate, accentuated the dessert’s flavors, proving that beer can be great with every course of a meal.)

As you can tell, I love the idea of drinking beer brewed onsite. The brewers at Mountain Sun/Under the Sun favor hoppy brews. If you like super-hops, I recommend the FYIPA, which pairs nicely with pizza.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Chef Nick Swanson is Under the Sun's kitchen magician. ©Allie Stoudt

Chef Nick Swanson is Under the Sun’s kitchen magician. ©Allie Stoudt